Michael Bisping has every right to be bitter.
About being defeated, as it now transpires, in three UFC title eliminators by drug cheats; or an injury layoff coinciding with an upward curve in the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in Europe.
You wouldn’t begrudge him, too, for looking at his next challenge with a tinge of resentment, as he faces the man he always dreamed of ripping the UFC middleweight belt from, without gold on the line. Yet, when you bring these topics to his attention, there is no acerbity, just determination.
On February 27, at London’s 02 Arena, ‘The Count’ takes on arguably the greatest fighter to have ever prowled the Octagon in Brazil’s Anderson Silva.
It’s a bout that should the United Kingdom’s MMA posterboy win, could finally see him contest for the 185lbs crown after an eight-year campaign to do so. He’s been close before, though. The ‘TRT Generation’, or fighters who have served bans relating to performance-enhancing drugs, hallmark the defeats he suffered in the 11th hour of his title pursuits.
Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort all brought efforts to an end. But despite the setbacks, Bisping has remarkably never left the title conversation since joining the division back in 2008.
“I’m proud of that,” Bisping tells Sport360 when asked about making several comebacks.
“People may get to that No1 contenders spot once in their life and then that’s them done. I’m now about to fight for the 33rd time in the UFC and I’ve always been in the picture.
“Of course, everytime I’ve fought for that top spot it’s been against guys who have been caught cheating. But whatever, it’s done now and I lost those fights. It would be disappointing to look back on if I don’t get the belt but at the same time you can’t be bitter about it.
“The fights happened and you’ve just got to get on with it. That’s why I’m training so hard now to get another opportunity at a title shot.
“Beat Anderson and I will hopefully be next in line. I don’t dwell on the past I just try and make opportunities for the future.”
Indeed, Bisping has to had to grind to return to the elite end of the division. At the backend of 2014, current champion Luke Rockhold provided a significant stumbling block with a second-round submission victory over the Brit.
But fast-forward just over 12 months and the 36-year-old finds himself on a two-fight win streak. Making it three, though, will be the toughest of his career.
Silva, who is returning to the Octagon after a 12-month PED suspension, holds the longest title streak in UFC history.
Chris Weidman brought that 2,457 day run to a shuddering halt three years ago and since then the Brazilian icon has fought just twice: breaking his leg in the rematch with Weidman before returning to beat Nick Diaz in January 2015.
‘The Spider’ failed multiple drug tests after that fight citing “sexual performance” medication for tainting his test results. Bisping sees that differently and is confidence of defeating the 40-year-old.
“I think he was on steroids his whole career,” the Manchester fighter adds. “The Nick Diaz fight was the first time he fought when testing was introduced and wouldn’t you know it, he tested positive.
“But to me I thought he was on it his whole career and you look at that fight he didn’t look great. I’ve always thought I could beat Anderson and I certainly think it now. The dream was to always beat him to be world champion.
“Yes, you could say it’s bittersweet he no longer holds the belt but I’ve always wanted this fight and I’ve always thought I could beat him. He’s great at certain things but he’s not as great as what people think.
“Yeah, okay, he’s accurate and he’s very inventive but he’s not the best wrestler, he’s not the best on the ground, he’s not that fast and he’s not the best boxer. He’s got some good kicks, knees and elbows but I’m long enough in the tooth to avoid the danger.
“I don’t think he’s ever fought anyone like me with my style, my movement, my footwork, my speed and my will to win. That’s why I think I will get a second round TKO.”
Bisping’s confident declaration is given extra credence when you examine his record on home soil. The UFC returns to London after a two-year absence, however, Bisping returned to his UK stomping ground last July when he picked up a crucial split decision win over the resurgent Thales Leites in Glasgow.
In doing so, he extended an unbeaten streak on home soil to 17-0 in professional outings.
And it’s a statistic all the more remarkable when you consider the almost immeasurable pressure that has rested heavily on his shoulders. The UK has a rich history in producing top level combat sports athletes, with boxing and kickboxing prominent. But the successes there did not initially translate to MMA.
That was until the searing rise of Bisping. He won Season Three of the Ultimate Fighter where his trash talking, loud mouthed demeanour and fast paced, all action fighting style would see him garner both fan support from the UK and Europe, and fan hatred throughout the US.
He built his stardom with the mic in his hand and legitimate, world-class fighting ability, which encouraged the UFC to use Bisping to break into the UK market.
So how has he dealt with being the face of British MMA as he prepares to return to London?
“I hear people say that but I never thought that about myself,” Bisping says.
“I just try to do my thing, trying to represent my country to my fullest and provide for my beautiful wife and three children. I was aware of it and it’s very nice that people use those terms but I never felt any pressure. To be honest things like that make me perform better. Pressure brings out the best in me.”
Of course, the pressure will be at it’s most intense next Saturday and given Bisping turns 37 the day after it will only add to that. His response?
“I want a gold belt to be sat on my f****** mantelpiece. Until I get one I will not rest.”
Don’t count Bisping out just yet, because everytime he is down and out he comes back stronger. And beating Silva will finally lead him down a path to gold.
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